Ouse Flooding: then and now

LogosComing back from a meeting in Peterborough earlier this week I crossed the Ouse Washes by rail, one of my favourite train journeys through the Fens.

Railway Bridge alongside Wash Road near Welney Reserve

Railway Bridge across the Ouse Washes. Source: http://keeppushingthosepedals.blogspot.co.uk/2010_11_01_archive.html

Best view over the Ouse Washes

By the way, the railway bridge over the Ouse Washes is quite an engineering feat in itself, spanning the Ouse Washes across one of the widest parts of the washes.

The bridge, rail line and surrounds have also been very creatively captured from the air by Bill Blake, one of the OWLP’s key partners. See for instance this image (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bblakecambridge/4101910909/in/set-72157622615800075/), or see more images within Bill Blake’s Flickr Ouse Washes photo stream.

The rail line between Ely and Peterborough opened in the late 1840s. For further historic information and some good historic images of the rail crossing, see Eddy Edwards’ research page on the Ouse Washes’ crossings, at http://www.ousewashes.info/crossings/bridges-and-causeways.htm.

By all means, also look at Eddy’s excellent slide show of the historic and modern elements of the Ouse Washes’ rail crossing: http://www.ousewashes.info/slideshows/railway.htm

Flood waters in Ouse Washes are receding

Back to the title of this blog post: as local people will certainly be aware of by now, the water within the Ouse Washes has been receding lately and the causeways at Welney and Sutton Gault are now open again.

This part of the UK has been lucky – although here we have received well-above average rainfall since Christmas, it has not been as bad as in the south-west. Also, the Ouse Washes, although not far off its maximum capacity, have proven to still function as intended over 350 years ago.

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Of course, there is no reason to be complacent, as some, localised flooding has indeed occurred along the Great Ouse further upstream and it would certainly have been a lot worse had we received the same amount of water as the southwest.

Despite the fact that the water on the Ouse Washes are receding, there nevertheless still is a fair amount of water on the washes, as these pictures I took from the train make clear.

Flooding now: multiple arguments

With all the discussions lately about the causes of flooding in the nation and how to prevent this in the future, a fair number of arguments have been thrown around over the last few weeks. I am not going into all of these now, but would like to highlight a few articles which show some of the arguments made:

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Proposed natural flood prevention measures. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25929644

Flooding then: same arguments?

Some people have been quick to blame others for the flooding, as we have seen over the last few weeks. Of course, there is no one single answer to these problems.

Looking at some historic flooding events in the Fens, most particularly the various flooding episodes in the Fens in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, similar arguments seem to have been used.

Below are two extracts from newspaper articles published around the time of the disastrous 1937 floods in the area: the arguments made are not much different from those made by some in the current flooding crisis (with special thanks to Mike Petty for providing me with these archival transcriptions):

Cambridge News, 23 March 1937:

The present flood conditions in the fens were raised in the House of Commons. A titanic struggle was going on between man and relentless nature. Children had been unable to go to school for months, housewives were marooned and unable to provide themselves with the necessities of life, crops had been destroyed bringing ruin to farmers and unemployment to farm workers. Half a million acres of the richest soil in the country were in daily peril during the winter. Much of the flooding had been caused to Government cuts in grants for land drainage, Arthur Greenwood declared

Cambridge News, 14 July 1937:

During recent floods the water in the Hundred Foot Washes had been held up causing great hardship to occupiers. Yet their drainage charges have greatly increased. The water is let into the Wash area through the Seven Holes Sluice at Earith. But Welmore Lake Sluice which had only been built about five years is unable to cope. The Hundred Foot should be dredged: at Littleport it was only 30 feet wide. Alternatively the water should be let through the Hermitage Sluice into the OldWestRiver and then out at Denver Sluice. But the washes were there for the express purpose of taking flood waters and grazing land was hired under those conditions. The problem is that rivers in the uplands have been cleared meaning water arrives in about a day, whereas it used to take a week.

How can you join the debate?

As part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, we are keen to get people together so that more people will understand better what the causes are behind the problems such as flooding episodes, and to find solutions to these where possible.

To start with, why not let us know what you think about the different arguments made above? Click on the ‘balloon’ to leave a comment; thank you.

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World Wetlands Day – family fun at WWT Welney

LogosIt is nearly World Wetlands Day!

2014 is the UN International Year of Family Farming – to link in with this, the Ramsar Convention chose Wetlands & Agriculture as its World Wetlands Day 2014 theme. The slogan is: “Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth”, placing a focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors (and the water sector too of course) to work together for the best shared outcomes.

Wetlands are often intimately linked with agriculture. No more so perhaps than in the Fens. Wetlands have often been seen as a barrier to agriculture, and they continue to be drained and reclaimed to make farming land available. But the essential role of wetlands in support of agriculture is becoming clearer and clearer, and there are successful agricultural practices which support healthy wetlands.

The surrounding agricultural land is also of immense importance for the species living on the wetlands. See for instance a beautiful image of swans in the surrounding fields near Welney – they feed on the sugar beet stubble: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9842362@N04/3267890638/in/set-72157602183911159/lightbox/

To celebrate what is so special about wetlands, why we need them and how agriculture is intimately linked to them, WWT Welney Centre has a family fun packed day of events lined up this Sunday, 2nd February. Activities include:

  • bird ringing demonstration
  • owl pellet dissection
  • guided walks
  • swan feeds: Watch a commentated wild swan feed at 12, 3.30pm or 6.30pm to find out about why the relationship between farmland and wetlands is so important for our winter visitors
  • and more

For the full programme, see: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/whats-on/2014/02/02/world-wetland-day/

More information can also be found here: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/news/2014/01/wwt-welney-news/get-involved-in-a-wetlands-bioblitz/

sunset at Welney @sailorgirl1984

Sunset at Welney, January 2014. Image from: @sailorgirl1984

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New Picture (3)

Swans – © Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust 2013

What is special about the OWLP area?

LogosThe OWLP landscape provides extensive wide views and contains huge skies, while being dominated by rivers, drains and ditches that cut across some of the most productive agricultural land in England. This landscape means different things to different people: some can find it featureless and intimidating whereas others find it exhilarating and value its tranquillity and distinctive lifestyles.

Now we have finalised the boundaries for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme and we have a defined area, the following question may need reconsidering: what is it that makes the OWLP area special?

In a previous post, I have set out what came out of workshops held regarding the unique qualities and ‘specialness’ and ‘distinctiveness’ of the OWLP area. As part of further discussions with our key partners, ongoing research and discussions with local community groups, we have been able to refine this information.

This then also fed into the Landscape Conservation Action Plan, a key document we recently submitted as part of our stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The below word cloud formed part of our ‘Statement of Significance’ and sums up what we believe makes the OWLP area special:

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Word cloud, summarising what makes the OWLP area special. Created using http://worditout.com

The OWLP landscape is of important for several reasons:

Internationally protected wildlife and wetlands

At 3,000 ha the Great Ouse Wetland network , which lies fully within the OWLP boundary, is one of the most extensive and most important wetland areas in the UK. It comprises of a network of nature reserves, many of which are owned by nature conservation bodies, including the WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes nature, RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes and RSPB Ouse Fen reserves, with further schemes planned including those to be created by the Environment Agency near Sutton and Coveney. Within the heart of this landscape is the Ouse Washes itself, one of the most important areas of lowland wet grassland in Britain.

The expanding network of reserves form a crucial core area in the proposed Fen-wide ecological connectivity network of wetland habitats, crucial for the survival of many rare and endangered flora and fauna species. The restored wetland areas which incorporate a particular high percentage of lowland meadows and reedbeds provide for a tranquillity not easily found elsewhere.

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Fen Drayton Lakes. Image by Sheils Flynn for OWLP scheme.

Rich Archaeology

The OWLP area is of at least national significance for its repository of well-preserved, often waterlogged archaeological and palaeo-environmental remains. The OWLP area contains 18 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including the well-preserved Earith Civil War Bulwark and several clusters of prehistoric barrows. The area contains especially rich prehistoric and Roman Period archaeology. The abundance of prehistoric remains in the southern part of the OWLP area demonstrate clear evidence for a major prehistoric ceremonial landscape, extending right across the floor of the Great Ouse valley.

Amazing engineering history

This man-made landscape lies largely below sea level demonstrating man’s amazing efforts in drainage engineering, executed here on a grand scale: with its abundant sluices, banks and dykes the whole landscape can be considered as a civil engineering monument. Human intervention regarding its management is as vital today as it was when, in the 17th century, the Ouse Washes in between the Bedford Rivers were created. The survival of the nationally significant Bedford Level Corporation archival collection, curated for by Cambridgeshire Archives, provides us with a unique insight in the historic developments of the drainage schemes in the area.

Unique Experiments

The landscape has also played host to some amazing social, economic and environmental experiments including the Flat Earth Society using the landscape to prove the earth is disc-shaped, the utopian social living experiment at Colony Farm in Manea in the mid-19th century, and the late 20th century hovertrain experimental track.

 

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